Vinod Kumar Saranathan

Science (Organismal and Evolutionary Biology, Soft matter physics, Photonics and Biomaterials)

Senior Research Fellow


View Curriculum Vitae

Dr Vinod Saranathan received his bachelors in Physics cum laude with a minor in Philosophy from Ohio Wesleyan University, where he honed his life-long interest in ornithology. Funded by a Dillon and Mary Ripley Graduate Fellowship, he earned his Master of Science in 2007 and a PhD in 2011 from Yale University, in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Dr Saranathan has pioneered the use of synchrotron Small Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS) as a precise, high-throughput analytical technique for assaying complex 3D biophotonic nanostructures. He was a Royal Society Newton Fellow at the Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, where he interrogated the nanostructural basis and consequences of fine structural colour variation within and between local Oxfordshire populations of blue tits. At Oxford, he was elected to an Edward P. Abraham Cephalosporin Junior Research Fellowship at Linacre College. Prior to joining the Division of Science at Yale-NUS College in 2015, Dr Saranathan was a Research Fellow in the Division of Physics and Applied Physics, School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, at the Nanyang Technological University, studying the theoretical photonics of bio-inspired, chiral meta-materials.

Dr Saranathan specialises in the study of structural colouration, responsible for vivid hues such as blues, violets and greens in both extant and extinct animals. Such colours are conspicuous in nature and form an important part of the phenotype of animals as they are often used in inter- and intra-sexual communication and camouflage. His integrative research interests lie at the interface of evolutionary and organismal biology, soft matter physics, photonics, biomaterials and biomimetics. Specifically, he is interested in what he has termed “Evolutionary Photonics” – a precise understanding of the biophotonic nanostructures underlying organismal structural colouration (both iridescent and non-iridescent colours). He earnestly hopes this holistic appraoach will inform fundamental questions from animal signalling to the applied bio-inspired or biomimetic design of novel, eco-friendly, functional materials by mimicking the ‘green’ water-based intra-cellular self-assembly processes. Towards this end, he is keen on developing and applying a ‘materi-omic’ approach to unravel the precise developmental basis of animal structural colouration in non-model organisms.

Selected Publications:

V. Saranathan, S. Narayanan, A. Sandy, E. R. Dufresne, and R. O. Prum. 2020. Single Gyroid and Inverse b.c.c. Photonic Crystals in Bird Feathers. in review, Nature Communications. bioRxiv (Preprint): doi: 10.1101/2020.08.27.271213

Foley, S.*, V. Saranathan*, and W. H. Piel. 2020. The Evolution of colouration and opsins in tarantulas. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 287:
20201688. doi:10.1098/rspb.2020.1688
* Co-first Authors

McDonald, L. T., S. Narayanan, A. Sandy, V. Saranathan, and M. E, McNamara. 2020. Brilliant angle independent structural colours preserved in weevil scales from the Swiss Pleistocene. Biology Letters 16(4): 20200063. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2020.0063

Seago, A. E., R. Oberprieler and V. Saranathan. 2019. Evolution of insect iridescence: origins of three-dimensional photonic crystals in weevils (Coleoptera: Curculionoidea). Integrative and Comparative Biology 59: 1664–1672 doi:10.1093/icb/icz040

Wilts, B. D. and V. Saranathan. 2018. A Literal Elytral Rainbow: Tunable Structural Colors Using Single Diamond Biophotonic Crystals in Pachyrrhynchus congestus Weevils. Small 14(46): 1802328. doi:10.1002/smll.201802328

​Saranathan, V., A. E. Seago, A. Sandy, S. Narayanan, S. G. J. Mochrie, E. R. Dufresne, H. Cao, C. O. Osuji, and R. O. Prum. 2015. Structural Diversity of Self-Assembled Arthropod Biophotonic Nanostructures Spans Amphiphilic Phase-Space. Nano Letters 15(6): 3735–42 doi:10.1021/acs.nanolett.5b00201

Saranathan, V., J. D. Forster, H. Noh, S. F. Liew, S. G. J. Mochrie, H. Cao, E. R. Dufresne, and R. O. Prum. 2012. Structure and Optical Function of Amorphous Photonic Nanostructures from Avian Feather Barbs: A Comparative Small Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS) Analysis of 230 Bird Species. Journal of the Royal Society Interface 9(75): 2563–80 doi:10.1098/rsif.2012.0191

Saranathan, V., C. O. Osuji, S. G. J. Mochrie, H. Noh, S. Narayanan, A. Sandy, E. R. Dufresne, and R. O. Prum. 2010. Structure, Function and Self-Assembly of Single Network Gyroid (I4132) Photonic Crystals In Butterfly Wing Scales. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 107(26): 11676– 11681 doi:10.1073/pnas.0909616107

Forster, J. D., H. Noh, S. F. Liew, V. Saranathan, C. F. Shreck, L. Yang, J.-G. Park, R. O. Prum, S. G. J. Mochrie, C. S. O’Hern, H. Cao and E. R. Dufresne. 2010. Biomimetic isotropic nanostructures for structural coloration. Advanced Materials 22(26-27):2939–44 doi:10.1002/adma.200903693

Noh, H., S. F. Liew, V. Saranathan, S. G. J. Mochrie, R. O. Prum, E. R. Dufresne, and H. Cao. 2010. How non-iridescent colors are generated by quasi- ordered structures of bird feathers. Advanced Materials 22(26-27): 2871–80 doi:10.1002/adma.200903699

Vinther, J., D. E. G. Briggs, R. O. Prum and V. Saranathan. 2008. The colour of fossil feathers. Biology Letters 4: 522–525 doi:10.1098/rsbl.2008.0302

For a complete list of publications, see my Google Scholar Profile:
My Publons Profile:
(PDF copies available on ResearchGate or via Academia)

Principles of Biophysics
Scientific Inquiry 1
Quantitative Reasoning
Foundations of Science: Field Ornithology
Foundations of Science: Just History and Mass Extinctions
Week 7 LAB: Wildlife Conservation in a Heavily Fragmented City-Scape